Sometimes fabrics aren’t well-labeled, even in the best of shops. Sometimes I find them in unusual places, like tag sales or consignment shops. I love a good hunt. I’m a fabric omnivore. If the fabric is the color/weight/weave I need for a project I use it. This upsets my purist friends but certainly makes my work . . . uh, distinctive.
Natural fabrics are my preference and I have gotten pretty good at guessing by touch and feel. But sometimes I am stumped. Polyesters are getting better and better. Some no longer feel like hard plastic. Some sweaters made of acrylics are hard to determine by the touch test.
I recently went on a shopping trip to New York City. Preparation included packing some unconventional items . . . my handy dandy fabric content detective kit.
Actually it’s just a disposable lighter or matches and a couple of four inch squares of white muslin in a sandwich bag. If a particular fabric is not well labeled or store help cannot answer my questions, I ask for a snippet. It’s an infrequent request and most sales staff are happy to help. That’s most . . . not all sales staff. Let’s just say the store salesman in the shop in New York City was having a cranky day. He looked at me as if I had two heads and then completely ignored me, not answering “yes” or “no” to my request for a swatch. You can’t win ‘em all.
Take your hard won fabric snip and step outside. This is a quick test to see if the sample is a natural fabric, a manmade fabric or a blend. Burn a bit of the corner of the fabric. Put out the flame almost immediately. You only need a bit of a burn for your observations not a conflagration big enough to roast marshmallows. And, let’s think. Standing on a street corner in NYC trying to light fabric afire . . . not good.
How does the fabric burn?
• Sputtering and hard to light, wool resists flame and self-extinguishes immediately when the flame source is removed.
• Silk also burns slowly. Both smell like burning hair or feathers.
• Cotton and linen burns slowly and steadily and smells of burning leaves.
• Polyester sputters and leaves plastic behind. It smells sweet and puts off black smoke.
What does the ash tell you? Natural fabrics turn to black or gray powder when touched. The polyester leaves hard shiny beads behind.